Business Essentials for Professionals


Behind the scenes: discovering banknote printing business with Oberthur Fiduciaire

Printing banknotes has been an old business. However in the last few decades, the business has completely changed – not only due to the threats from counterfeiters and therefore development of additional security measures, but also in the aesthetical sense where governments are looking more and more to get the culture and history of the country reflected on the notes.

One of the primary aspects of modern bank printing companies is the ability of the company to innovate and reinvent itself on a regular basis. And French firm Oberthur Fiduciaire, one of the global leaders in the banknote and security printing, is a classic example of what goes on behind banknote production and its business.

Founded in 1842 in France, Oberthur Fiduciaire has had a long history of developing and reinventing itself after it started off as a mere printer to become a global banknote printer and security printing.

To this end, Oberthur Fiduciaire has always taken extra care for innovation and change at almost every crucial stage of its development. Innovation has become part of the firm’s culture as early as the early 20th century.

“We constantly push the limits of our products […] to ensure the highest level of protection against counterfeiting” announces the official website of the company, indicating that the company has managed to reach a certain degree of maturity through innovation in the field off security printing.

Printing banknotes is just not a singular stuff but a culmination of a number of functions – in each of which the firm seems to have gained expertise in. At the heart of banknote printing at Oberthur Fiduciaire is the combination of art and technology which is also regarded as the central challenge in the exercise. The French firm has acquired very specific know how and a high level of technical knowledge of the processes, as its CEO Thomas Savare explains:

“We have to master the printing techniques themselves, but we also have to master the job of integrating different technologies, different substrates and different security features. We have to do that within an environment that is highly industrial, because we’re supplying billions of individuals with products that are numbered and personalized. And these products need to be so secure that forgery would be impossible, with the resistance needed to last the day-to-day use of a banknote.”

Oberthur Fiduciaire has managed to gain a niche in the global banknote printing business through its offering of complete end-to-end products as well as offering a whole range of modern, secure services and solutions adapted to resist counterfeiting. The CEO of Oberthur Fiduciaire comes into focus about the specific process peculiar to security printing industry:

“Part of the security of our business comes from the supply chain, which is unique to the industry. Banknote paper is very specific one, only used for banknotes, and manufactured by extremely niche suppliers who will only sell to recognized banknote printers (state printers or private printers). The same goes for the ink, which is made exclusively for banknote printing. The ink is resistant and has integrated security features, to be long lasting.”

But beyond security aspects, every banknote printing exercise begins with the designing of the bank note. At Oberthur Fiduciaire, in-house designers trained and experienced in decoding various cultural traits of a particular region into a bank note are at the helm of the design process.

“As a French company, and a century-old one too, we know the amount of history, culture and patriotic feeling people and governments put into their bills. To create a good banknote, we must be capable of identifying what nations are the most proud of and attached to, and then represent it beautifully on the currency,” says Thomas Savare.

The uniqueness of each client is kept in mind to deliver banknotes that are unique in their own way. This is helped by the company’s “French touch” as Savare puts it, which helps to provide the unique touch to the design and creation of a bank note. It is considered by Thomas Savare to be one of the differentiators for Oberthur Fiduciaire.

Stressing on the importance of aesthetic appeal and quality of design in banknote printing business, Thomas Savare says: "it's certainly a job that requires a highly developed sense of aesthetics. … Thanks to the expertise we have developed over time with central banks around the world, we see how the symbolism conveyed by a banknote is important in the eyes of our customers.”

Indeed, the history, culture, a set of common values and symbols of national pride should be reflected in the banknotes which can act as symbols of national pride and as illustrious figures or monuments that make sense in the minds of citizens. “In a way, it is also an instrument of social cohesion within a nation,” says Thomas Savare.

But another essential aspect that is prime at Oberthur Fiduciaire is security and inclusion of the state of the art security elements into the bank notes.

"With the rise of computer technology, the democratization of high performance printing means and CAD tools, counterfeiting is less a question of pure talent. The time of "artists" working in the background of a garage is over. Counterfeiters have become more professional and organized. So much so that behind each network of forgers, one inevitably finds engineers. This is why we constantly strive to maintain a good length of technological advance," Savare explains.

The firm, heavily investing in R&D projects, managed to patent 6 security technologies in the past years that included Jasper, an anti-photocopy and anti-scanner hologram. 

An in-depth view of the banknote printing business at Oberthur Fiduciaire reveals that this is not an easy task and involves both technology, artistic skills and an acute understanding of the client country’s culture and heritage along with providing customized solutions. Although banknotes are everyday objects for most us, banknote printing is no piece of cake!  

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